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Random House

Patrick Lindsay’s Back from the Dead, one of the first books published on the Bali bombing, is primarily an evocation of the inferno and its aftermath, through the eyes of those who survived it. There is ‘Peter’s story’ (the author’s central focus), ‘Nashie’s story’, ‘Col’s story’ and so on, all interpolated with extensive quotes, mostly from the victims of the blast. Despite the painfully vernacular tone of the early chapters, this book is a good primer on the terrorist attack and its consequences.

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This is an entertaining family biography of Oxford philosophy from 1900 to 1960. Nikhil Krishnan has mined various autobiographies and reminiscences to craft a series of biographical sketches, anecdotes, and snapshots of philosophy at Oxford during the twentieth century. He has traced the connections, legacies, and disagreements among the philosophers, demonstrating how, over the years, pupils came to inherit the chairs of the professors who had trained them, passing on certain attitudes and practices, characteristic of the Oxford way of doing things. 

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Girl Next Door by Alyssa Brugman & Somebody’s Crying by Maureen McCarthy

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April 2009, no. 310

Two new young adult novels explore the complexities of family. While Maureen McCarthy’s Somebody’s Crying details a daughter’s painful loss of her mother, Alyssa Brugman’s Girl Next Door negotiates the hardships of teenage life while coming to terms with family bankruptcy.

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Rod Reeve manages a company that directs foreign-aid projects. Rather than flying in with helicopter-loads of rice, he focuses on ‘capacity-building’ and infrastructure. Agricultural science is his own speciality, but he has set up and run a variety of projects. He has worked to counter opium production in Pakistan, develop dryland farming in Africa, Iraq and Jordan (he had to evacuate during the 1991 Gulf War), and improve health and education in China, Laos and Indonesia. He assisted with the quarantine service in Papua New Huinea and post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh.

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The timing of Peter Manning’s book, in which he seeks more Australian empathy with Muslims, was exquisite. The mufti of Australia in September urged the opposite, telling his flock that Jews and Christians were ‘the most evil of God’s creation on the face of the earth’. He also had colourful things to say about women being responsible if men turn to crime, or commit rape or adultery. Of course, the media overlooked Taj Din al-Hilaly’s interesting view that the axis of evil is Jewish and Christian. They also ignored his peculiar take on criminology. As usual, sex was what sold, giving the government a useful diversion from its floundering on climate change and the quagmire in Iraq.

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Berggasse 19, the address at which Sigmund Freud and his family lived for almost fifty years, is now Vienna’s Freud Museum. It is the other Freud Museum, the one in London, that houses the extensive collection of antiquities which is Janine Burke’s main focus in The Gods of Freud, but the Berggasse museum contains a number of Freud’s other personal possessions, including some little bottles, pots and brushes that are the remnants of an old-fashioned gentleman’s dressing-case. Of high quality, these well-used tools of personal attention to a body now long dead are scratched and dented from use.

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The year is 1806. While pacing the Cobb at Lyme Regis, the tall and windswept Laura Morrison exchanges keen glances with the intense Mr Templeton, but he fails to meet later appointments, leaving Laura in the lurch.

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Towards the end of her story, Jean Debelle Lamensdorf admits that she ‘wanted to mentally shut out the horror of Vietnam – to remember only a sanitised version of our year out there’. Having spent twelve gruelling months working as a volunteer for the Red Cross, tending to the non-medical welfare of wounded ANZAC troops, Debelle Lamensdorf has succeeded in cleansing this personal account of life during one of modern history’s most bloody wars.

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A Tuesday Thing by Kate Shayler & God's Callgirl by Carla van Raay

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August 2004, no. 263

Accounts of past child abuse and the inability or unwillingness of those in positions of authority to confront its reality are amongst the hottest of topics in today’s media. Generally, the story is about the perpetrators and their punishments, or about the impact of disclosures on church leaders forced to retire because of their negligent or political mishandling of cases brought to their attention. But what about the victims? Rules of privacy generally mean that we never learn at firsthand what it must be like to live with the knowledge of a childhood tainted by sexual abuse on the part of some adult with authority. Still less are we likely to know what that knowledge must be like when the abuser was also a much-loved family relation, such as, or especially, a father. For that reason, memoirs such as these are valuable in that they initiate the reader into the long-lasting effects of abuse with graphic emotional immediacy.

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The Master Pearler's Daughter by Rosemary Hemphill & Bullo by Marlee Ranacher

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August 2004, no. 263

Here are two engaging books that trade on the romance and exoticism of northern Australia. Neither makes much demand on the reader nor offers profound insights, but both in their different ways abound in atmosphere and a genuine ‘feel for place’.

Rosemary Hemphill’s childhood was one of extreme contrasts. Her father, the product of Jewish Orthodox parents and Sydney Grammar, washed up in Broome with the dream of becoming the master of a pearling fleet. As so many do, he fell in love with the place and stayed until forced out by the fall of the pearling industry. He served in World War I and, while recuperating from wounds in England, fell in love with the beautiful and cultured daughter of a conventional upper-middle-class couple. The English in-laws insisted that he convert in order to marry their daughter. Back in Sydney, his father declared ‘my son is dead’, as is the custom of Orthodox Jews whose progeny ‘marry out’, and forced the rest of the family to cut ties as well. Louis Goldstein, now Louis Goldie, returned to Broome with his wife and pursued the half-glamorous, half-arduous life of the ‘master pearler’. The life was harder on the women, who were forced to battle the extreme physical conditions, isolation and monotony.

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